Clover Pour Over

Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your consideration the Precision Pour Over from Clover. This little beauty of a prototype is adorning the front counter of Roy Street Coffee and Tea as we speak and let me be the one to tell you that, regardless of the arguments for or against this device, it makes a killer cup of coffee. This is a first look with whatever pictures/videos I could take on my cell phone and some initial thoughts to wet your whistle for discussion. I will post new material as I obtain it in “UPDATES” at the end of this post, so check back for more goodies.


Here are some highlights:

  • consistent, temperature-stable water
  • metered water flow
  • eliminates pour technique variance
  • ability to change parameters via computer
  • uses Hario V60-02
  • sexy as hell

When it first hit the counter, my brain did a few flip-flops. I think many of us have a knee jerk reaction to the tune of “working our way back to the batch brewer” and “destroying the handcrafted romance of coffee preparation.” The existence of this machine forces us to take an honest look at the purpose of manual pour over in a retail setting.

The reason we, as an industry, ran away from the batch brewer is the inherent decline in cup quality as it sits in the urn. It is possible for a properly tuned and maintained batch brewer to brew a good cup of coffee but the customer has no guarantee that the coffee in their cup hasn’t been sitting for half an hour. Quality-conscious coffee bars began doing manual pour over as a show of their commitment to great coffee and to add theater and appreciation for their product. Manual pour over does a fantastic job of enforcing freshness in full view of the customer as the barista grinds for and immediately brews each cup.

The only problem, from a quality standpoint, is the “manualness” of the process. We recognize the massive difference that slight variation in pouring technique and timing makes but expect baristas to execute precisely the same routine in the midst of the morning rush. Some cafes have this down to a science but the labor and time required to maintain pour over perfection is too strenuous for most shops. The average shop simply does not have the labor to staff an extra 3 baristas just to work a pour over bar and train everyone to the level required for consistency store-wide. Therefore, in the vast majority of cafes doing pour over, cup quality goes down the toilet as soon as there’s more than a couple people in line.

What the Clover Precision Pour Over affords us is the same guarantee of freshness but with the added bonus of consistent pour technique without the added labor tax. We recognize the brewing advantages of the pour over cone and lend validity to machines like the original Clover and Bunn Trifecta, so it seems almost silly to fuss about combining the two. There’s nothing I enjoy quite like a great cup of pour over coffee and, whenever possible, I like my barista to take the time to craft it well. But when I’m in line in the morning rush, I’ll feel much better about my chances if I know that the stark terror in the counter-person’s eyes isn’t going to be a factor.

So, this is the prototype and we’ve been given it to play with and offer feedback for improvements. They’re already talking about adding on-the-fly temperature adjustment and a translating faucet arm to improve the pour. So far, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with and I can’t wait to see how this thing rolls out.


The imitable Sarah Dooley played a development role and has this to say about working to make it a reality:

Trust me, when you get a phone call to work with Randy Hulett, Izaak Koller & Brian Shay of the Starbucks Clover Department it doesn’t take long to say “yes.” It is all lesson plan and learning with this team. I should also add, it has been a great honor to have the consideration and reference of Major Cohen. The opportunities presented to me over the past 2 years have been fantastic, thank you Major.

But here’s what you really wanted, the dish on the automated pourover by the Clover Team. My specific role was to work on recipe development around taste. That would include grind size, dose, temp, pouring speed, pouring technique, taste analysis for all sizes at street level cafes (8,12 &16.) There were also undefined but important goals; product must finish in the cup at 165 degrees or higher and of course there was a time constituent, quality had to be met with speed and efficiency.

Exhaustive testing of all the above categories changing one variable at a time and plotting the results would yield a small grouping of strong “good” points. Narrowing and fine tuning those variables again with different coffees, to be sure the recipe would work efficiently for more then one coffee. (As the first model this would be a basic function, but future models will work with broader recipes.) Here’s the most interesting detail I am at liberty to give, after we came up with a good range of equations the team would then take the coffee out into the company to be tested. Tested by cuppers, Coffee Team, R & D and every day coffee drinker/employees of Starbucks. A full week or more can go by before I get word on how the coffee was received. Torture. Thankfully this project was not only received well but it moves into stores faster then anticipated. (It’s like knowing about a Christmas present for months but you can’t say a word.)

There are many capabilities for this highbred clover and don’t be surprised if individual coffee recipes meet every blend, reserve coffee with the ease of “coffee upgrade button” store wide.

***1/12/2011: new video uploaded***


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Categories: Brewing, Coffee, From the Editors, Uncategorized


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19 Comments on “Clover Pour Over”

  1. 01/01/2011 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing this for us to jabber about. Here are my most immediate thoughts.

    1. The coffee in the center was only wet during the bloom cycle, looks like that coffee ended up being wasted. Am I seeing this wrong?

    2. Okay for starbucks its definitely about consistency, they have a particular genre of customer generally. But in my hypothetical coffee shop it would NOT be important to have every pour over barista do it the same way. when we’ve had pour over comps this last year, how many different styles did we see? Sure, we always picked a “winner”, but I bet not everyone agreed on what cup was the best! Good baristas, like good bakers, know how to nuance a precise chemical science, and get differing yet comparatively wonderful results. This doesn’t solve the “long line” problem where baristas will start cutting corners, but that does not mean inconsistency is always bad in my book.

    3. From the labor perspective: I think it is bullshit that we cant afford to hire more baristas to perform a function that we assume will improve a coffee shop and thus saleability. The mechanization of labor is not necessarily evil, but its also not a necessary evil. ATMS and Automated grocery clerks have minimized respectable, unionized jobs that once were fast growing sectors for highschool grads to get good and respected jobs. A barista is a similar position. How far do we chose to automate him or her. Again, not necessarily evil, but not a necessary evil either. it is up to the coffee shop owners out there. Personally, I think we let out “consumer” washout our equally or more important “worker” mindset. We cant be consumers if we dont have jobs.

  2. 01/01/2011 at 8:46 pm #

    This is intriguing. Do you think it will be developed further with the programmable flexibility of the Strada or Trifecta? In other words, will the Barista be able to select a specific setting that has predetermined temp, volume, etc, based on the the coffee varietal being brewed?

  3. 01/01/2011 at 8:47 pm #

    Very interesting stuff!
    Thanks for the post Ryan.

    Initial thoughts
    Water temp stability looks like it would be really good due to the short distance from the source to the coffee
    Flow control looks good being unaffected by outside influence. Exact placement every time.

    This machine will still need a barista at the helm pushing the buttons.
    So the labor involved is not alleviated…at least not financially. ie…you still have to pay someone to stand by the machine and maintain it.

    Inability to change styles based on what the coffee may require. Coffee’s turbulence due to age from roast date and its extraction requirements due to origin will throw a wrench into the idea of consistency. If coffee were dead and not as animated and varying as it is then my guess is that this machine could work much better at providing consistency as it appear that its flexibility is quite limited.

    It would seem that once you factor in all the work it would take to program in an optimized brew recipe for the coffee you are using, then you factor in the labor involved in maintaining, developing, and training technicians to work on the machine …you might as well have developed fool proof training curriculum for manual pour over. Rather, I think this will supplement the lack of knowledge and know how a barista may have with a machine that is almost guaranteed to perpetuate that lack into future generations of baristas who will learn that they cannot do as well as a machine. Which is unfortunate.

    It does loose a good deal of the romance for me.

    anyhow…just knee jerk, poorly thought through thoughts. This is surely innovative and, yes, does look kind a cool.


  4. 01/02/2011 at 12:15 am #

    What you see here is only the prototype. There are many improvements on the way but first they wanted to get this bare-bones version into a cafe and see what we could do with it. Some ideas that have been kicked around by the designers are on-the-fly temperature adjustment, translating pour arm, and programed water debit/flow/temp per coffee.

    It absolutely does save labor in that once you push the brew button, you can walk away and make a cappuccino in the time it takes to finish the brew. The barista must set up the coffee in the cone but the time that would normally be spent pouring can now be spent taking someone’s order, etc. Just like the original Clover, it will take some time at the beginning of the day to dial in the available coffees but once that’s done and the recipe is set, you’re good to go.

    Also, it is entirely possible for a barista to brew just as good a cup as this machine or better and no one is suggesting otherwise. The exciting part is that, if programmed correctly with some improvements to the current model, it could brew as good a cup as a skilled barista putting their full attention into it without the variance that occurs when the cafe gets busy or barista gets tired. Shops that have fully staffed manual pour over bars with fully trained baristas are marvelous to behold and they have most likely based a good deal of their reputation (and profit) on being willing to go that extra mile. But at the very least this is an extremely interesting little gadget that could vastly improve the cup quality at Starbucks if the same effort that goes into bulk brewing can now go into grinding and brewing by the cup.

    • Max McDaniel
      04/15/2011 at 11:46 am #

      The problem that I have with the notion of a pour-over Clover is that it is, in some yet undefinable way, chipping away at the soul of what I do for a living. The original Clover is a wonderful and cool little machine that makes a cup of coffee unlike anything else out there in body, flavor profile, the works. What the pour over version does is take a respectable institution of the modern coffee shop — the pour over — and mechanize it in the same way Starbucks has taken the human element out of the espresso machine. Sure, you do need somebody to weigh out and grind the coffee, pour it into the filter and push the button, but just try and show me the artisanal skill in that.

      The disastrous consequence is that your average Starbucks customer is going to grow more familiar with and accepting of the concept of a machine making his or her coffee. As I understand it, one of the constant struggles of the coffee industry is trying to reach out and educate people about the human element of coffee, the immense skills required of good baristas and why it is worth paying a little extra or waiting a little longer for a latte at a place that emphasizes these factors. What Clover 2.0 is saying is that the best way to make coffee is to take all of the human element out of it, to mechanize and standardize every possible variable, and I simply cannot rest easily knowing that a force of this magnitude is seeking to destroy something that I hold so close to my heart.

  5. 01/02/2011 at 9:08 am #

    My initial reaction is a mixed bag. Knee Jerk because of the lack of romanticism, sure. Though, also really excited to see consistency, or at least programability in a V60. To me the V60 is one of the most complicated brewing devices to use. Ten fold in a busy cafe environment.

    My curiosities lie in whether or not it will be available to public, or home users?

    Als, how’s the recovery time? Are you able to brew one after another without a rest time?
    This to me seems to be the largest cafe environment problem with the über. Recovery time.
    Would you need more than one of these in the cafe?

    I seem to remember a while back at SCAA a company called jet stream that had a pour over station with multiple boilers at different temps, similar to the slayer. Costly on energy consumption, but great on temp stability. Rapid recovery.

    The lack of user involvement seems at one point disheartening for Baristas, but if there’s a kettle lying around they can always work on technique for themselves.

    In my eyes, the equipment or build out of a cafe is less important than the program that the company has set up to combat inconsistencies and “bad brews” having a team or specified technician that dials in all coffees with a certain technique, or at least checks/tests Baristas technique based on a score sheet or extract mojo. Empirical.

    Either way, the brew bar needs to be managed, totally up to the company how that happens. Having 2-3 of these lined up could be a really awesome way for one Barista to work a line of happy customers way more consistently than a pour over bar.

  6. 01/02/2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Ryan…sure…good point about the employee not having to do other things. Although seeing as how there are shops that can have a dependable and consistent manual pour over, something that can be attributed to great training, I think this machine is more for a place that is not going to do that kind of training. Certainly one cannot say that Starbucks cannot afford to staff it. Automation is a supplement to training. In some cases you have no choice…but with this …I don’t know.
    I would expect to see later models of this machine be able to have a more flexible water source.
    It would be interesting to see if they could program it the spigot to move in and out. That way you could have more programmable options when it comes to where the water is hitting. Right now it has to treat every coffee the same.

    • 01/02/2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Let me also say that this would be really fun to play with!

      Next Seattle Coffee Fest perhaps we can see one at a jam?

  7. 01/02/2011 at 3:56 pm #

    I’m in favor of an automated single cup brewer, I’m just not sure that we should hold the Hario V60 and associated technique as the best possible way to drip coffee. Pour over purists probably will reject automation and find dozens of problems with your implementation. Why not aim higher and develop a brewing technique that surpasses pour over?

    • Chris Townsend
      04/13/2011 at 6:28 am #

      I definitely think that relying on the pourover is chasing our tails. there are better possible full immersion techniques available they just haven’t been developed! why use a system that relies on paper filters this just appears to be using technology to travel backwards. Lets travel forwards and work on creating a better system that uses cup at a time theory with technology & development. Yes the pourover is romantic but is slow and has inherent consistency problems. Art mingled with technology!

  8. 01/03/2011 at 7:30 am #

    Interesting device – but so what?

    If this Clover is proprietary to Starbucks then it won’t be released to the public, no matter how great a coffee it can brew. Because of this, to me this is a non-issue.

    But it is very cool.

    • Nigel
      01/04/2011 at 9:37 am #

      what he just said… and it will look great next to the frappuccino maker and the super-duper automatics… and another thing, maybe newer versions will have more buttons and better functionality, but it’s actually not that cool in it’s current incarnation.

  9. 01/03/2011 at 10:53 am #

    I agree with the above comment that such brewing devices lead to knowledge entropy on the part of present and future baristas. This is a big deal, and something Starbucks has been part of for some time now.

    “Just like the original Clover, it will take some time at the beginning of the day to dial in the available coffees but once that’s done and the recipe is set, you’re good to go.”

    This is time many cafes wo’t take. I know that will be a controversial claim, but I’ve worked in a shop that went out of their way to purchase a Clover because of cache, but never once worked on their recipes, brewing all coffees the exact same way, all the time (I didn’t know any better at the time). Given there are shops using manual pourover that are in the same boat. I also worked at Starbucks for several years, and I know how often the espresso machines were actually calibrated/timed/adjusted in any store I was in (not even close to as often as they should’ve been). At least with manual pourover attention must be paid to the process, and baristas can learn by observing the process every time they do it, rather than walking away to make another drink.

    Finally, it’s disputable whether such a machine is still fast enough to provide high speed service during a rush. I’ve worked a morning rush in a store where the only brewed coffee was Clover, and even with all the corners cut there, as soon as more than three people ordered brewed, the cups started lining up and service slowed considerably. Is this machine faster? If a cafe can’t keep up with a rush by single cup brewing, and this is unacceptable to the customers, it’s time to look at other options (eg press pots and airpots) anyway.

    This is certainly a cool machine, and I’d love to see one in any of my local Starbucks (where they pour a right crappy pourover anyhow) for those times I’m there, but I worry about loss of real skill and technique, and paid work for baristas for that matter.

  10. 01/04/2011 at 10:12 am #

    i think you mean “inimitable” when referring to the doolinator.

    this device is tragic.

  11. 04/27/2011 at 1:12 pm #

    that this looks crazy. and we thought our BUNN trifecta was nuts.


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